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Hour of Enchantment / A Mystery Story for Girls By Roy J. Snell Characters: 6481

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

Long after Florence had retired for the night Jeanne paced slowly back and forth in that magnificently furnished living room. Her bare feet sank deep in the softest of Oriental rugs. Her filmy gown shimmered in the moonlight.

Oblivious of all these surroundings, Jeanne was deep in thought. "Faith!" she murmured. "Faith! Faith in one's self, in one's associates, one's tasks. Faith in one's future. Faith in a kind Providence.

"Faith. Faith. Ah, yes, I shall have faith."

But the future? How strange the past had been! In her thoughts three-bladed knives, Buddhas and curious Oriental banners were strangely mixed with log cabins, a hearse drawn by black horses, and an organ playing itself.

"Ah, yes, but the future!" she exclaimed. "There is always a to-morrow, to-morrow, and to-morrow. The grand, good, golden future! Who can be afraid?"

At that she snapped out the light to stand looking down upon the vast, mysterious city until the distant chimes rang out the hour of two.

"Ah!" she whispered. "My hour of enchantment!"

For a moment she stood with bowed head as if in prayer. After that, for long hours, this entrancing room knew her not. For long hours she was wrapped in sleep.

It was well that she had faith in the future for to-morrow was to bring events mysterious and terrifying.

The clock was preparing to strike the hour of ten on the following night before she ventured forth from her well-kept fortress, Lorena LeMar's apartment. She had not forgotten her narrow escape from Miss LeMar's friends, the three rich and very badly spoiled play-boys. "Not that they were likely to do me any real harm," she had confided to Florence. "They were out for one wild night and wished me to join them. And that for me?" She had made a face. "No! No! Not for me! Never!"

That she might escape danger from this quarter, she had garbed herself in her ancient gypsy costume of bright red and had hidden herself inside a long drab coat that came to her ankles.

She realized that perfect safety was to be had only by remaining inside. But who wants perfect safety? Certainly not our little French girl.

As a further precaution she descended a back stairway and left the building from a little-used doorway.

A half hour later she might have been found in the throng of joy hunters on the Midway of the great Fair.

She had just emerged from a breath-taking crush when off to the right she caught sight of a curious group gathered about some person beating a drum.

Tum, tum, tum, the dull monotony of beats played upon her ears.

Having joined the circle, she found herself looking at a very dark-skinned person with deep, piercing eyes. The man wore a long white robe. On his head was something resembling a Turkish towel twisted into a large knot.

Seated on the ground near this man were two others quite as dark as he. One was beating a curious sort of drum, the other squeaking away at something resembling a flute.

"Now watch! I will make him go up! Up! He will climb the rope. He will disappear utterly. Utterly!" The dark man's voice, coming as it did from deep down in his throat, suggested that he might be talking from a well.

Upon hearing these words a small man stepped forwa

rd. The dark-faced one drew a circle about this little man.

At once the dark one began to whirl, then to dance.

Jeanne had witnessed many strange dances, but none so weird as this. The man whirled round and round until his robe seemed a winding sheet for a ghost. He began revolving about in a circle. And inside that circle stood the little man who was, Jeanne discovered, dressed in a curious sort of yellow gown.

Faster and faster went the drum beats, squeak-squeak went the flute, wilder and wilder flew the dancer.

"What can be going to happen?" the girl asked herself. In a vague sort of way she wished herself somewhere else, but to her astonishment she found herself unable to move.

Then a discovery, that under normal circumstances must have fairly bowled her over, came to her as in a dream: The little man standing there in the center garbed in an orange gown was none other than the long-eared Chinaman who had snatched the three-bladed knife from her hand.

"You can get him. Get him now," a low voice seemed to whisper.

"Ah, yes, but you won't," a stronger voice appeared to reach her. "You're going to see this thing through."

And so she was.

Of a sudden, without for an instant abandoning his mad whirl, the dark-faced conjurer from India, for such he was, produced a rope. Three times he lifted his hand high.

"Now watch! Watch closely. He will go up." In his voice there was a strange hypnotic cadence.

Like a thing shot from a gun, the rope rose straight in the air and, in so far as Jeanne's eyes told her the truth, remained there standing on air.

The next instant a figure all in orange began passing up that rope. Up, up a yard, two yards, three, four, five. Up, up until the darkness appeared to stretch out black-robed arms to receive him.

Then of a sudden the dark-faced one ceased whirling. The drum gave forth one more loud boom, the flute one more squeak, and all was still.

With a sigh that was all but a whisper, Jeanne took one long, full breath.

She closed her eyes for an instant, then opened them.

To her astonishment she saw no dark-faced one in a white robe. The musicians, too, were gone.

"And the Chinaman!" she exclaimed aloud. "He has vanished also!"

"What has happened?" It was Erik Nord, the man from China, who spoke to her. He had just come up. "You must have seen a ghost."

"No. I-I saw a Chinaman go up a rope that was fastened to nothing but air."

"There was no rope," Erik Nord laughed, "at least not in air, and no Chinaman."

"Oh, yes! I saw him!"

"Well, perhaps. But he did not go up the rope.

"That man in the white robe," he explained, "was India's cleverest conjurer. With his weird music and wild whirling he cast a spell over you. You saw what he wished you to see. Perhaps you were hypnotized. Who can say?"

"But that Chinaman!" Jeanne murmured. "He was-was-"

She was about to tell the story of the three-bladed knife. Thinking better of it, she made some commonplace remark, then bade this chance acquaintance good-night as he hurried away to fill an engagement.

It is little wonder that, after such a mystifying experience as this, Jeanne should straightway walk into a trap. This is exactly what she did.

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